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Crito and A letter from Brimingham Essay

Socrates will always be remembered for his philosophy. Similarly, Martin Luther king Jr. will also be remembered for his crusade against the injustice to the blacks and his fight for equality for the black community in the USA. Socrates lived during the Greek civilization, many centuries before Christ, whereas King lived in the 19th century. Crito and letter from Birmingham are masterpieces of literary works. The former is created in a dialogue form, between Socrates and Crito, wherein Socrates refuses to escape from the

death punishment. The later is a letter penned by King himself from the jail of Birmingham demanding equality for the blacks in the USA. This essay summarizes the contents of each of these works of literature and tries to find their similarities and contrasts. Both ‘Crito’ and ‘letter from Birmingham’ are literary pieces which have the same roots, namely unjust laws, but the ways in which Socrates and Martin Luther King reacted to it, were very different. The thematic contents and the literal styles are completely

different. Crito ‘Crito’ was written by Plato. Socrates is charged with debasement of the Athens’ religion and penalized to death. One of his disciples, Crito, visits him in the jail and tries to persuade him to escape from the jail, to escape the death sentence. Plato has selected early morning as a setting for the long dialogue between Socarates and Crito. Socrates was told that he may be acquitted if he gives up preaching philosophy. He does not yield. He argues that God has commanded him to find the truth, and

Philosophy is meant for improvement of the soul above all other things. Socrates believes that his death sentence is more of a trouble for his fellow Athenians than himself, but respect for law supercedes all personal motives and he wishes to prove this to his fellowmen through his death. Socrates tells Crito that the suggested action would undermine his whole life’s work. He argues that the institution of law is the most precious possession of a state, and to escape illegally would be abdication of the most important virtue of the Athenian

government. Socrates argues that he would prefer to be a martyr for a cause rather than a criminal who defies the very system he took so long to build. If he betrays these laws, he would betray his conscience. Socrates further argues with Crito, that he owes many things to the laws of Athens. In fact, he is what he is today because of the laws. Death is the price he is paying to keep the legal system strong. In other words he is not giving up his life as a soldier, but as an example to obedience of law.

He affirms that logical argument and persuasion should be the defense of the accused, and since he is not able to convince the authorities on these grounds, he had no option but to accept the punishment. ( Crito ) A letter from Birmingham On Good Friday, 1963, the blacks marched into downtown Birmingham to protest against the unjust laws. All were arrested. The clergyman wrote to Martin Luther King, the leader of this march, to stop their protest. In reply, the King drafted a document from

the jail in Birmingham, that would mark the turning point of the civil rights movement and provide enduring inspiration to the struggle for equality. Martin Luther King, in his ‘ letter from Birmingham’, tries to raise a few points. These are : 1. There is an urgent and desperate need for a non violent, direct action against the government 2. Laws are unjust to the Negroes 3. The Church does not live up to its responsibility as people of God. 4. The Negroes have a right to disobey unjust laws.

King bases most of his letter on a very strong basic argument that it is the right of the blacks to ‘disobey ’ unjust laws. While justifying the steps taken by the blacks, King states that these action were long overdue, and they were aimed at forcing the politicians to heed their request of desegregation. In reply to clergyman’s charge that breaking the laws is not a way of protesting against laws, King answers that an unjust law is no law at all, and hence no law is broken if unjust laws are disobeyed.

He asserts that the basic function of law is to protect the citizens, and not to degrade or segregate the population. King expresses his frustration not only to the government in this letter, but towards the church also. He feels that the church has skirted its responsibilities to the black people, hiding behind the ‘anesthetizing security of stained-glassed windows’. The most heart breaking assertion made by the King is, “ In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church’. ( summary) Similarities

A major similarity of these two works is their roots. Followers of Socrates knew very well that it was because of unjust laws, that Socrates was punished. It was Socrates’ efforts to spread the truth through Philosophy, but that endangered the interests of the rulers, who had made laws which looked after their interests first. Thus, Socrates was a criminal according to the laws framed by the rulers. These laws were partial, and lacked the balanced view. Fully aware of the situation, Crito had gone to Socrates with an offer

to escape. On the other hand, the black community was compelled to rise against the government because the laws were very partial, favoring the whites, and largely against the blacks. King opposed the type of laws which permitted entry of white skinned people only, in a public park. The blacks were subjected to many lawful injustices. Unjust laws lead to the creation of these literary masterpieces. Both these works are justification papers. Socrates gives his reasons in detail, why he

is ready to accept death as a penalty rather than escape from the prison. King cites various reasons, as to why the black community should rise against the government. One more similarity is that these works have originated in a prison. Socrates was in the prison of Athens, when he talked about his justifications to Crito. Martin Luther King was in the jail of Birmingham when he wrote this letter, addressed to the clergyman who advocated withdrawal of black protests. A very silent familiarity in both these works is their universal appeal.

By citing reasons for their approach, both Socrates and King have shown a new path not only to fellow Athenians or the blacks of the USA, but to the entire humanity. Their respective messages, ‘ law must be obeyed ’ and ‘ unjust law must be disobeyed’, will be a guiding factor for the entire humanity in future. Contrasts Both these works have many contrasts. The most salient contrast lies in the approach taken by Socrates and Martin Luther King in replying to the unjust laws. Socrates shows full respect to law, whatever its

character may be. King differs drastically in his belief, and goes to the extent that an unjust law is no law at all. Socrates is absolutely adamant in his stand that law must be respected, under any circumstances. His approach has no place for disobedience of law. On the other hand, King defies unjust laws, does not call the law at all, and sees nothing wrong in disobeying such laws. In fact, he insists that such laws must be disobeyed. Socrates has an element of submission attitude in his approach, whereas King has an

element of protest attitude in his approach. Both these works are contrasting in the time of their creation also. Crito was created in the ancient settings of the Greek civilization, in Athens, many centuries before Christ, whereas ‘A letter…. ’ was created in the 19th century, in Birmingham, USA. The style and the language are also very much in contrast to each other. ‘ Crito’, is written by a third person, Plato, citing a dialogue between Socrates and Crito, one of his followers. The format is that of a dialogue between the two.

‘ A letter …. ’ , is a plain letter addressed specifically to the clergy man, who had requested the black community not to protest. “Crito’ emerges as one to one, eye to eye and verbal communication, whereas ‘ A letter…’ is an indirect written communication, addressed to a specific group of people. The linguistic style is also different. The English of ‘ Crito’ is that which prevailed in the days of Ancient Greece, whereas ‘ A letter…’, has some touch of modernity in it, comparatively, as it was written many centuries later.

Conclusively it can be said that both these literary works were created because of unjust laws, but the ways they were interpreted by Socrates and Martin Luther King, were totally contrasting. However both have important messages for the entire humanity, for all times in future. Works-cited page 1. Crito, theme analysis, Novel analysis, Retrieved on 6 May 2007, from: < http://www. novelguide. com/crito/themeanalysis. html > 2. Summary of a letter from Birmuingham, by Martin Luther King Jr. , Retrieved on 7 May 2007 from : < http://www. freeessays. cc/db/26/hmd408. shtml >


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